naamah_darling: The right-side canines of a wolf's skull; the upper canine is made of gold. (Default)
Thing I Made Thursday is postponed due to my camera having no batteries.

Instead, by request, a tutorial on faking the look of real bone. Just in time for all your Halloween prop-making needs! There'd be more pictures, but, again, camera.

Let's start by talking about bones, since it's surprising how little people know about them who have not actually handled lots of them.


Bone can be anything from a very light cream-white to dark golden-brown. In general, if it's too light or too dark, the viewer won't parse it as bone, even if you've done a fantastic job of making it look like real bone. It needs to be somewhere in between. It has to look more "real" than real looks, especially if it's going to be viewed from a distance, or in a photograph. You have to reconcile realism with what the viewer expects to see. Of course, you can still go for realism. Nothing wrong with that. Use these same techniques, only less.

Bone ages differently depending on how it was cleaned and where it's been sitting.

Sun-bleaching yields a dull finish and very dry-looking colors, with a grayish base color and darker areas that are anywhere from grimy brownish-white to blackish-gray. Like a wooden fence that turns gray over time, the color fades out of bone even as it darkens if you leave it in the sun. Bones left in or on the ground may take on color from the earth around them, giving them the same undertones.

Bone that has been professionally cleaned and prepared is often very light, a lovely cream color with undertones of yellow and brown.

Bones are saturated with fats and oils, and because bone is somewhat porous, these migrate to the surface of the bone. Once exposed to air, they darken. Oily areas are darker, yellowish, and often slightly translucent with a waxy sheen. Bones that have not been de-greased, or have not been de-greased sufficiently, have a strong yellowish undertone, and this color will deepen as they age, eventually yielding that lovely toasty golden old bone finish. Even well-prepared bones will darken with time.

Sutures and crevices will pick up more grime and debris, as will cracks and splits.

So, think about the color you want to go for, and try to find a reference for it. A real piece of bone is ideal, but most folks don't have that easily to hand.

I will, when I have my camera powered up again, put together a reference collage of different types of bone, since I have pretty good examples of nearly everything.

Ready to get started? Let's go!


fine sandpaper
clean water
a small spray bottle
a palette or small containers to mix the washes in
paper towels
a clean, soft cloth or two
several medium brushes (scaled to fit your project, small project = smaller brush)
a small detail brush
a big, soft mop brush
white spray primer or white gesso
artist's soft-body acrylic paint in these colors:
yellow oxide (a yellow ochre color)
burnt sienna (a rusty red)
burnt umber (a dark chocolate brown) or raw umber (a cold dark brown)
spray-on or brush-on topcoat of some kind


Start with a smooth object. Carved bone tends to be smoother and polished. Natural unworked bone, like femurs or skulls, can be rougher, but you still want to try to work out any surface imperfections that scream "THIS IS MADE OF WOOD" or "I MADE THIS OUT OF POLYCLAY." Wet sanding between layers of primer is a good way to do this.

Prime it with a white spray primer meant to go under latex paints. You can usually find these at hobby stores, and almost always (for much less) at home improvement stores. Spray primers, applied carefully, adhere very well, provide good tooth, go on evenly, do not obscure details, and cover quite well.

Brush-on gesso or other primers will work, but can gunk up fine details and often require more coats.


Once you have a smooth object with a couple of coats of white spray primer, or several coats of white paint or white gesso, mix up some bone color with white paint or white gesso, a wee touch of yellow ochre, and a tiiiiiny bit of burnt umber. This will become the lightest color on your finished prop. Apply until you get full coverage. Let it dry really well. It should feel like room-temperature chalk and not be cool or tacky at all.

Now you are ready for the washes.

Here is a picture of the washes after they were applied and dried, in order:

bone finish washes

If you are adventurous, this should be all you need. If you want much more detailed instruction, read on!

I do mean detailed. )

If there's interest, I can work on other tutorials, just tell me what you'd like to see.

In case you want to contribute to my battery fund, tip jar!


naamah_darling: The right-side canines of a wolf's skull; the upper canine is made of gold. (Default)

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